Monday, July 28, 2008

Lean times

Much headscratching and theorising at this end has greeted last week's news that Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong have scrapped their debut album two and a half weeks ahead of August 4th release.

Two and a half weeks. Promos sent out, shop stock carefully packaged and on a pallet in Mercury's warehouse. It's worth thinking about just to work out what's going through everyone's heads here, whether the label writing off what was surely a sizeable consignment or the band writing off their entire recorded history to date. While press reports have tried to find connections in bands who have abandoned batches of written songs pre-session and there's plenty of documented Lost Albums, even if most have got no further than demos and later semi-officially bootlegged (Smile) or been quietly released much later (Prince's Black Album), we've racked our brains to try and think of another incidence of someone pulling their debut off the shelves for qualitative purposes in the buildup to release. The closest we can think of is Battle, who gained some measure of genre respect for their first few singles, then hauled away debut album Break The Banks not long before its release as they'd written a batch of new songs and were unhappy with the production. Half of that album was slung out as a stopgap mini-album Back To Earth, while the newly revitalised full length was issued nearly a year, by which time nobody cared and it died a commercial death, the same fate suffered by the band a few months later.

But even if there is precedence for our case study it's still a curious thing to shout from the rooftops that you recorded it too early in your development and want another go, sir - the album was originally scheduled for May release. Everyone seemed happy enough with John Cornforth's work when it was recorded at the turn of the year, not least the manager whose brainwave this is being attributed to as "it did not represent them as a band now" (as opposed to how it represented them in June, presumably). And how long has this been planned? Looking at their Myspace, apart from some dates in Japan their only UK commitment after the announcement is Reading and Leeds - no tour to promote the album and after a busy start two UK festivals after T In The Park/Oxegen, odd for a band desperate to make their name and build a fanbase behind the hype. Maybe it was the NME's in no way self-incriminating 8/10 review that forced their hand. We're more than tempted to think this is less connected with ensuring the music reflects the diversity and optimum performance of the band and more to do with how last single Where Do You Go? peaked at number 92 and their pre-album single looked to be drifting by without troubling playlists, while despite a ton of press gig attendance has by all accounts been slow of late, following an unprecedented string of piss poor reviews from the NME tour. The hype didn't work, the backlash, triggered by a series of spectacularly headslapping Lean interviews - even if he adopted that persona as an attention grabbing pisstake, it had no hope of working on the blank printed page - was immense. You'd speculate that this was merely a way of getting the band's name into the public domain were it not that a) it's got the band's actual name into the public domain and b) it inextricably links the band to the idea that everything they've done so far is sub-standard by their own admission, whereas now there'll be a curiosity charged increase in traffic when it leaks onto p2p, while clearly never going to be a Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or an Extraordinary Machine - they had goodwill behind them, after all. So you'd make a case for it all being a smart PR stunt, except now they have nothing to back it up with except the very thing they've just rubbished and promised to replace with something they haven't yet decided on a producer, studio or timetable for.

They say there's few big advances to be had in music any more for new bands. We respectfully suggest this whole farrago suggests there should be less.

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